Easter Sunday is a profound and sacred day on our Church calendar, and that spark of glory is sometimes partnered with guests visiting your church who aren’t regular church goers. Some folks may be members of your congregation who you see from time-to-time, others might be out-of-town family members or newcomers to the neighborhood.
In 1963, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is 11 o’clock on Sunday,” a reference to churches traditionally being spaces of segregation instead of unity. Most communities don’t purposely exclude, but, in the words of Indian-American Rakhi McCormick, a convert to Catholicism from the Hindi faith of her family — inclusion won’t “just happen,” it needs to be something carefully considered, especially since the experience of many Catholics reflects Eurocentric expression, representation, and devotion.
How can your parish prepare for Easter Sunday and visitors who may feel out-of-place in your community?
Dr. Ansel Augustine, Director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministries for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, offered these 5 tips for making your parish a welcoming space that lives out Christ’s command to “Love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13:34)
Educate Ushers/ Ministers of Hospitality/ Parish Staff/ Ministry Leads on how to spot and welcome new people and families to Parish Events and Masses
- Remind your volunteers of the importance of their role during this season and review your current practices of welcome.
- Stay kind and be respectful of differences. Says Rakhi, “It seems a little trite but being greeted by parishioners and the pastor and asked my name — without a joke or reaction about it — is big.”
- Extend more options for encounter. Louis Brown, a Catholic from the Washington D.C. area encourages parishes to have opportunities of hospitality before and after Mass. Sure, some folks might rush off to brunch, but someone might want to discuss the experience they just had at your parish with someone who is willing to listen.
Create (or update!) Welcome Materials to give to visitors with parish information
- Start with your bulletin! Is the layout clean and attractive? Is the messaging targeted for those already “in” the parish? How can it be restructured to reflect invitation and hospitality? For instance: the term “RCIA” will be confusing for someone who isn’t Catholic already, so offer upbeat explanations where there may be gaps in knowledge.
- Consider a welcome card that outlines the ministries offered by your parish, invite visitors to leave prayer requests.
- Is everything in your bulletin in English when you have other languages represented in your parish boundaries? Something as small as a graphic in a native language can make a difference to a visitor.
- Consider dusting off your Mass aids. Remember: it may have been a few years since someone has been to Mass (if ever), and the flow of the liturgy isn’t exactly intuitive. Rakhi adds, “Mass aids that are simple (and not buried in a hymnal or missal) are another wonderful tool to encourage and welcome those who may not feel like they quite fit in. If they’re available in a couple languages — even better!”
Collect their information…and follow up!
- Initial information that would be helpful for your staff is simple: first name, last name, phone number, email, are you baptized/Catholic (yes, no, unsure). Those simple answers will provide your staff with enough information to reach out later.
- Having paper cards printed out, with pens or pencils nearby, makes collection simple while your visitors are in church. Consider streamlining your online process as well by keeping your intake form simple and easy-to-find on your webpage.
- Don’t stop there! Consider writing a follow-up letter or email in the weeks that follow. A simple note expressing that you were glad they joined you on Easter is meaningful for your visitors.
Invite them to be added to the parish email list and invite them to join a ministry in the church
- Louis Brown stresses that, “Christ-centered community amongst existing parishioners in which they accompany each other day in and day out” is one of the best ways to encourage inclusion. Accompaniment that stretches into long-term friendship is a true mark of Christian love.
- Rakhi takes the message a step farther by stating that having a parish that is active not only in the works of mercy but also advocacy for the principles of Catholic Social Teaching for the marginalized can be a great indicator for BIPOC or other marginalized populations that the parish is authentically committed to justice and compassion.
Update the parish website so all the information is accurate and relevant
- It will only take a minute or two of your review, and it makes a world of a difference to someone new to your neighborhood. Did you change Mass from 10 to 10:30 a.m. 5 years ago but never updated your website? Make things as simple as possible for someone new to the area.
- “Where is overflow parking? Where is the main entrance?” These questions and more may be on your visitors’ mind, make sure they have access to the information they need when they visit your website.
While our faith and the joy of the Resurrection have been celebrated for centuries, Dr. Ansel Augustine reminds us all that this is a new time in the Church, “As the pandemic lifts, there may be more ‘new folks’ coming to our parishes in the hopes that our faith could help them make sense of this ‘new normal,’ let us be aware of this reality, by teaching and preaching to our congregations, that all are welcome in God’s house, and to make sure that we engage with the new faces in a way that they feel welcomed and included in parish life.”